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Optimizing Rowing Through Testing

BY VOLKER NOLTE
PHOTO BY ED MORAN

When many people hear the word “testing,” their heart rates jump. For some, it is playful excitement; for others, heavy stress. Increased heart rate is actually a positive thing, your body’s way of preparing for major effort that, along with an adrenaline rush, enables supreme performance.

Testing is one reason we train, because training leads to improved performance, and athletes should be eager for proof. We want to compare our current performance to that of other rowers or our own previous marks to chart progress. This can be measured in results relative to opponents at regattas and seat races, or in absolute numbers, such as weights lifted, erg scores, or times on the water. If training is planned properly and athletes have worked well over a sustained period, they can be confident their performance has improved, and that it will  show in measurable ways.

Without goals, training is difficult and often boring.  Therefore, every athlete should look forward to the next test. This, of course, is not always the case. Tests can be overwhelming, if repeated too often. I explained this to my athletes by using as an example a cake that you eat piece by piece.

The volume and intensity of your training determine how big your cake is. With every test or race, you slice off a piece, which makes it smaller. The more pieces you cut off, and the bigger they are as a result of the size of the challenge, the faster the cake disappears. Unless you have sufficient time to replenish the cake by training between tests, your cake eventually will vanish, and you won’t be able to perform.

This is why preparing for a test is so important. The better prepared you are, the more you’ll be able to take on more tests and bigger challenges. You know what you have done. You have experienced fatigue, difficult situations, and high effort. Consequently, a test becomes a smaller hurdle, one you can approach with confidence.

Your expectations, of course, have a major impact on how you perform in a test. If your expectations are low, you may not be disappointed but you’ll never reach your full potential, and other athletes will surpass you. If your expectations are too high, you are likely to fail and get frustrated. It is much better to set challenging but realistic expectations based on previous results and an objective evaluation of your training.

Another strategy is to break down the test into pieces or subordinate goals so you can experience a sense of accomplishment along the way that will motivate you, and success will not depend only on the final outcome.

Athletes tend to like certain tests more than others.  You can hear statements such as: “I simply cannot really perform well in this test, but I am so much better at the other test.” or “Today is not my day.” or “Why do we have to do this test?” Such pronouncements foster a negative attitude, and do not reflect the confidence that should accrue from how an athlete performed in training. They speak rather of a lack of preparation and/or improper expectations, and often they are built on misconceptions. For example, we all know that “ergometers do not float,” but we also know that ergometer results correlate highly with on-water race results and that a certain raw power is necessary to reach a particular boat speed.

Of course, positive experiences in tests are based on objective test designs. Testing athletes in dissimilar conditions, not providing the same information to all athletes, or holding back or falsifying information–all these create unfair conditions for participants that can lead to frustration and loss of respect. Athletes, coaches and officials must prepare properly for testing and handling the situation in a fair and competitive manner. Under proper conditions, athletes will thrive and enjoy racing to the best of their ability.

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